Commentary

Jerry Reese backpedals on best move

GM unnecessarily waffled on his claim that the Giants would make the playoffs

Updated: August 17, 2011, 10:49 AM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

There are a myriad of things New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese could be justifiably anxious about this season, from the team's reconstructed offensive line to extending Tom Coughlin's contract another year to trying to find replacements for departed defensive tackle Barry Cofield or tight end Kevin Boss.

But backpedaling from his statement last week that the Giants would make the playoffs is something Reese should've dared to be wrong about. Especially after a slog of an offseason in which Reese gave Giants fans little to grab onto as one Super Bowl hero after another was allowed to walk out the door, while the division rival Philadelphia Eagles cleaned up in the free-agent market.

And yet, there Reese was on Tuesday, inexplicably undoing the best move he'd made all summer in the space of a few seconds during his radio appearance on The Michael Kay Show on ESPN 1050 in New York.

There aren't many ways to take Reese's statement that "We'll make the playoffs this time and we'll get into the playoffs and make a run" -- which is what he said in a spirited give-and-take with reporters last Thursday.

But when Reese resurfaced Tuesday, it was to complain that his comment was distorted -- and not to admit that perhaps he wrote a check with his mouth that his team might not cash, or that, in hindsight, he regretted putting Coughlin on the spot -- postseason or bust! -- after two straight years without making the playoffs because it could now mushroom into a miserable, season-long storyline.

No, no. Reese hinted at nothing like that.

He instead complained last Thursday's remark was misinterpreted in the New York echo chamber.

"First of all, I never said guarantee and I never said promise, that's the way they spin it in this neighborhood," Reese told Kay. "I was giving our team a vote of confidence that I have in them. I said last year if we had made some plays down the stretch here and there we would have been in the playoffs and this time we'll make the plays. We will get in the playoffs. We'll make a run. I'm giving my team a vote of confidence.

"I never said promise, I never said guarantee, but when you read the paper, Jerry Reese said guarantee. That's what you get around here."

So what should we make of Reese's retreat -- beyond the obvious fact that Broadway Jerry he's not?

The griping was a rare show of rabbit ears by Reese, a man who before now has studiously affected a public image of complete calm and control from the moment he succeeded Ernie Accorsi as general manager and the Giants rolled all the way to their Super Bowl win over then-unbeaten New England.

What it suggested is while a great many Giants need a good year this season, Reese needs a good year as much as anybody.

He rolled an absolute perfect game in his first season as GM, when six of his draft picks stuck with the team and made significant contributions on the way to the Super Bowl.

But the farther the Giants get from that game, and the longer their streak of not making the playoffs or winning the NFC East continues, the more Reese is open to charges that he won with somebody else's players, and hasn't won anything significant since.

That kind of chatter ends -- or is at least cut back -- if the Giants can beg, borrow or steal their way into the postseason this year somehow.

And if they don't, you know what? Reese will have more to worry about than some harmless mid-August statement that he expected them to get there. What else was he supposed to say last Thursday? "The season's over on the 15th of August. ... The Eagles' front office kicked our front office's butt, all right. ... I take full blame for the salary-cap inflexibility we're hamstrung by"? No.

That's why Reese's retreat was beyond odd. It was highly unnecessary.

His initial show of defiance was refreshing after the setbacks and injuries, feuding with Osi Umenyiora, and free-agent losses the Giants have suffered through since the NFL lockout ended.

The fact that Reese's uncharacteristic playoff prediction was so short-lived suggests he really is feeling some heat from somewhere -- be it self-induced, from ownership, or just the sight of Coughlin's mouth clamped into an even tighter thin line since he heard what Reese had promised last Thursday.

Back then, Reese had also talked forcefully at times about how the Giants have a master plan all right, and they're comfortable developing players and making "responsible" offers to the free agents rather than getting caught up in the "big, sexy moves" that other teams have made.

And his argument might've had traction if he had just been talking about Dan Snyder's Redskins or Jerry Jones' Cowboys, who annually come up looking silly after their huge free-agent outlays or trades.

But these are the Eagles everyone is talking about -- a franchise that has won six straight meetings against the Giants even before it put together an even better-looking roster this offseason.

By sticking to his "We'll make the playoffs" remarks, Reese could've given the Giants players something to live up to, and rally around: "Did you see how Jerry stuck his neck out for us?" He would've underscored his faith in himself as well as them.

But a vote of confidence isn't confident at all when you waffle on it five days later.

Reese would've been better off Tuesday saying nothing at all.

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